“Do you remember comic books?”
They all look at me with dog-like confusion. It’s irritating. At fifty one, I’m far and away the oldest person in the group of refugees, but because of my age - and hence my education - they all look at me as if I’m some kind of sage, when in fact I’m just a laid off insurance adjuster from Dahlonega, Georgia. Most of them are dead-eyed kids, but even the older ones - in their thirties - have a strange, sneering kind of ignorance. On the one hand, they seem to think it’s a amazing that I know things like who the sixteenth president of the United States was, or what a Dinosaur is, but on the other hand they clearly feel all of that knowledge is pretty useless. I can’t argue that they’re wrong, even if I thought they were. Six months ago, I would have argued that they were a bunch of runny-nosed troglodytes, but now I find I’m gradually coming around to their view. I’m unquestionably the last human being alive who knows how to drive a car, but since there are no more working cars, what does it matter?
There were fifty or sixty refugees - it was hard to keep an exact count, some kept running off, some kept dying, some stragglers kept showing up from one place or another, so the number was continually in flux, up and down unpredictably. The overwhelming trend was down, though. When we started off, there had been a thousand of us, there had been a hundred left this morning. Bad stuff had gone down. Bad stuff always goes down. The number of refugees correspondingly went down. Blacknight found it difficult to keep track of, and if he couldn’t, with his amazing detective’s brain, then what chance do I have? Of course that’s just justification. In actual fact, I’m too depressed to keep a count. What’s the point? The numbers will almost certainly be smaller come the dawn, smaller still come the following dusk, yet even still smaller should anyone survive to next light. We’re on the raggedy edge here. For all I know - and I know a hell of a lot about these things - the refugees and I are the last human beings on planet earth.
We’re holed up in a very large comic book store in the Buckhead section of Atlanta. Judging from the architecture and the beyond-ample parking outside, I’m assuming this place used to be a car dealership, and a fairly ritzy one, but I have no solid memory of it. Strange. I can remember the Irish pub just a few blocks up the same street, I remember the techno goth club across the street, I once got mugged a few blocks south of here, I used to be here a lot, but no memory of the comic book shop, or the car lot that must have preceded it.
One of the refugees comes up to me with an arms full of copies of “Barely Concealed Nipples” back issues, some Richie Riches, and “Stutz Bearcat, Frontier Lawman” comics, and looks at me questioningly. His mother - I think - is with him, looking blankly ahead, with the fifty-mission stare the last of our race have all developed. More like a hundred-mission stare, if I’m honest. I look at her - she’s not that much younger than me, maybe forty? Forty one? Why the hell isn’t she explaining this to the kid?
I ask the question again, slightly differently, “You remember Comic Books, don’t you?” More stares. I look to the mother, “You remember these things, right?” She just shrugs and walks off, leaving me to explain it to her illiterate son. Where to begin?
“Comic books: A form of literature quite popular in the 20th century in America, England, and Japan, somewhat less so elsewhere. Declining steadily in popularity since the last decade of that century, but still capable of supporting niche market since…”
That was the blind kid. I’d taken to calling him “Homer,” and he’d taken to responding as if it was really his name. He wasn’t blind when we started out a couple weeks ago, but he’d lost both his eyes in a firefight up near Kennesaw mountain, and had been entirely dependent upon us since. Blacknight had sewed up his eyelids to prevent infection, but he still wore his glasses, though the lenses were shattered. It was a deliberately disturbing image, apropos for the end of the world. He was probably the last literate ten year old in the world, but lacking eyes, it did him no good.
“Shut up, Homer,” I said.
We hunted around, and found a large display room with no external windows full of adult comics, so I started scooping the things off the racks and piled ‘em up on the floor. We started a fire with them when I was reasonably sure no one outside could see it, but you can never be entirely sure what they’ll see or won’t notice. Some of the bastards have infrared vision - in which case we’re screwed - others can only see the visible spectrum, others can see the EM band, and presumably could track us by the electrochemical impulses in our own brains - well, my brain and Homer’s brain anyway. The refugees don’t seem to be thinking a whole lot - it is irrational madness to risk a fire, but I learned a thing or three from our benefactor before he died in my arms this morning. The fire is needed because inside each of us there’s a savage afraid of monsters in the night, from back when our species began. Now, here, at the end of history, when there really are monsters in the night, the fire has some kind of psychological effect - funny word, psychological. I might be the last human who knows what it means - on the primitive part of our brains. It calms us, it makes us feel safe, and that tiny bit of hope is enough to offset the danger it brings. Or so said Blacknight.
Of course he’s dead, so what the hell does he know?
Homer is yammering on about comics as an art form to people who’s education is almost nil, and who are too hungry from starvation to make out half of what he’s saying. He’s going on about the 21st century popularity of the Western comic, and the Pirate comic, and the Time Traveling Naked Chick Detective comic. It annoys me.
“When I was a kid, comics were synonymous with superheroes,” I say, with no particular emphasis in my voice, just a matter of fact. That shuts everybody up. Nobody wants to talk about superheroes any more. I pick a couple of the brighter dullards for guards, and tell the rest to go to sleep. Sleep deprived and exhausted, most of them have no trouble. Me, I can’t nod off, so I walk around the outer rooms in the shop, using the light in my wristwatch to look at some of the comics on the shelves.
They’re messes, of course. Low quality paper left to molder on the shelves for ten or fifteen years, however long it’s been. Some of them have covers that have faded entirely to white from the sun in the outside windows. I check the dates on the few books who don’t crumble to dust at my touch. The most recent date I find is thirteen years ago. I run it through my mental calendar, and am a bit surprised this place was able to make a go of it for such a long time. When the humans were shipped out of Atlanta, it was probably shut down then, or maybe it was kept running by our replacements afterwards? Who can tell, but it almost undoubtedly was the last comic shop east of the Rockies. I didn’t even realize they were still publishing comics by that point, frankly. I leaf though a few looking for information, but then I realize that I don’t know what I’m looking for. I wouldn’t recognize a British or Japanese imprint if it bit me on my disturbingly hairless ass. I note what I take to be foreign slang in a couple of ‘em, though.
In what probably was a lunchroom, in what was definitely a refrigerator, I find a box full of pristine, bagged 20th century comics, preserved in the relatively airless environment. Superman, Wolverine, X-Men, Justice League, Marshall Law, something called “Radioactive Man,” and others. Someone’s time capsule of personal shame, hidden here to preserve it for the future, in the hopes that someone who can appreciate it will properly enshrine it. In a moment of extremely directed rage, I carefully take them all out of their bags and put them back in the box, and then piss all over them. I’d gladly further profane them by defecating on them as well, but I’m much too malnourished for that, and I can’t really remember the last time I took a squat clearly. Must have been days ago. I carefully put the top back on the crate, and return it to the long dead fridge.
Nobody much wants to talk about heroes anymore.
There was a time when “Comic Books” was more or less synonymous with “Super Heroes.“ I was never much in to that, though. I read lots of comics as a kid: Richie Rich, Archie, Chip n’ Dale, your basic Gold Key crap. I had a stack of ‘em a couple feet high. I got older, and started getting “Weird Tales of Space” and “Fightin’ World War II Commandos” and stuff like that. When I was exposed to superhero comics at all - at summer day camp while waiting for my folks, or on the porch of my grandparent’s house where one of my cousins had misplaced ‘em - I solidly disliked them. Particularly Marvel. I hated Marvel. The artwork was crap, the coloring was lurid, the stories were incomprehensibly mired in their own backstory. DC was better in that their artwork generally made an effort to look like the actual things they were trying to represent, and their stories were generally stories, but ‘better’ only brought them up to take-it-or-leave it level in my eyes.
The first superhero comic I can remember reading was when I was six or seven years old. Some kid - undoubtedly dead now - had some dumbass Marvel comic that he shared with me while we were waiting for the school bus. It was about a guy with a high-tech glove that could change matter from one sort to another. He hugged his mother without turning it off first, and she turned to dust or water or something. It scared me in the way you can only really get scared when you’re in first or second grade.
“What do you think?” He asked me when I handed it back to him.
“Superheroes are gay,” I said, trying to hide my fear under a veneer of derision. It was my first-ever assessment on the genre, my ‘first word’ on the subject, if you will. I haven’t seen too much to make me change my opinion in the lifetime since. The kid beat the crap out of me, and I can still remember the pain. It’s funny. I can remember my first beating from - gosh - forty four years ago, but I’ve got no conscious memory of the walloping I took just yesterday.
I was a senior in high school when Marvel went bankrupt, and was purchased by DC. They ran a year-long Maxi-series about someone called “The MacGuffin” who’s actions resulted in the history of both universes being folded together as one. I could not have cared less. I was 23 or so when my friend Ian forced me to read them all, and I gradually began to warm up to the superhero comics, and the DCM in general. Not a huge mania for me, but I followed Green Lantern along, I enjoyed “The Syncretist,” I had every issue ever written of “The Tick” (Which wasn’t DCM, but you know what I mean), and JL-T was kinda’ fun. Even still, all of them - excepting The Tick - would take a back seat to “Lost In Space: The Next Generation,” which I claimed to read for the stories, but it was mostly for the good girl art, and Freddy Fortune, a hilariously dirty knockoff of “Richie Rich,” and “Flaming Carrot” and stuff like that. I just never connected with superhero comics the way others did.
It was about ten years later when the first real-life superheroes started showing up.
The sun comes up to find me slumped awkwardly over a cash register. There’s a bag full of hardback books I’ve selected from the shelves next to me. I can hear a beautiful, alien music playing, which causes my empty bowels to clench in fear: Clarion is somewhere about. Her disturbing combination of massive super-violence and high opera is bad, bad news indeed, particularly now that we’ve lost our protector. I see a contrail in the pale blue distance above the charred ruins of downtown could be Uberlord or Superjunge, or Fille de Pouvoir or one of the other heavy-hitting fliers, if so, it’s really bad news. Or it could just be some also-ran like Flitter or Skythe, who can’t do much more than fly. Either way, they’re looking for us in the wrong part of town, so if we play it safe, we might have a chance. I note absently that the sun is rising from the east, and not the south, which means that some damn fool or another shifted the earth’s orbit again. The gods get bored, I suppose. Or perhaps they’re prone to drunken dares. Or maybe they’re just showing off, trying to get laid. Who really understands them?
No one has said it, but in the absence of Blacknight, I’m the leader. I don’t want the job, but I do take it seriously in the twelve or so hours I’ve had it. No one asks to be Commander Adama, no one asks to be Moses, but it’s not like you can refuse the mantle when it descends upon you. I make my way in to the central room, and start rousing everyone, including the guards, who are of course asleep anyway. I haul out my bag full of food pills - one of Professor Retroactive’s inventions from a decade ago, intended to end world hunger; He’d gotten the idea while watching a 1930s SF movie - and I pass one out to everyone. I don’t bother to count our numbers, but I see that one of the refugees has bled to death in the night, a victim of yesterday’s suppertime dust-up with Vox Inhumana in which he lost a leg. I smile - actually, I don’t smile, I haven’t felt my expression change in days, I don’t have the energy or hope, but I feel some little pang in my head that’s somewhat related to humor - at the knowledge that though Blacknight is dead, at least he gutted Vox like a trout as his last act. The story of the human race would have ended then and there, but Blacknight bought us another page or two. Maybe, if I’m very, very lucky, I can buy us another chapter.
Oh, who am I trying to kid? The story of the human race is already over and done. This is denouement. A Coda at best, a footnote at worst.
I note that Deadpan is elderly again. That’s problematic. Deadpan was a street-level hero, just like Blacknight: no powers, but unbelievably good acrobatic skills. Blacknight was all about hand to hand combat and spooky-good detective skills. He had openly patterned his superhero persona on the comic book character Batman - well, duh - and he was our leader. Deadpan had equally good acrobatic skills, but was a for-suck detective. He was kind of the moral consciousness of superherodom, though, master of underhanded sarcasm, and his own self-invented fighting style, an odd cross between Kendo, Fencing, and Juggling. It was his out-of-the-box thought processes that had kept us one step ahead of the Supers during our long, slow retreat over the past few months. Were it not for him, we’d have gone extinct long ago.
Mister Bryghtsyde caught him a month in to our exodus. Bryghtsyde had always been fond of erratic and unpredictable stochastic logical constructs, so of course he wanted to experiment on Deadpan. Blacknight made sure we’d escaped, then insisted we go back to rescue ‘Pan. I went with him, leaving Toliver in charge of the refugees. There were still around 900 of us at that point. We hitched a hypertube to the planet Eschatelon, rescued our friend against all odds to the contrary, and made our way home again. The whole adventure took less than a week, but by the time we got back, there were only 500 left.
Our victory was hollow. Bryghtsyde did something to Deadpan, some kind of experiment. The result was that our friend aged down to a newborn baby state, then up to doddering senescence, then back again, about every 17 hours or so. What kind of sick game is that? A week later, while we were skirting past the outskirts of the futuristic wonderworld that used to be Rugby, North Dakota, Bryghtsyde walked right up to Black night - no idea how he got there, or knew where we were or anything like that - and politely explained in that sonorous-yet-menacing voice of his that what he’d done to our friend was an act of mercy. Then he let us go. No idea why. Pawns in some larger game that the superheroes and the gods are playing amongst themselves, or just some sick concept of mercy from a destroyer god who’s only approximately human shaped, and has no empathy at all? It’s unfathomable. Don’t ask questions you can’t answer, just keep walking.
I note that I’ve said ‘gods’ and ‘superheroes,’ as if there’s some kind of difference. There isn’t.
I ask the lady who leads Homer by the hand if she can lead Deadpan too, but she can’t, he’s too damn old. In a bit he’ll start de-aging again. Eventually he’ll be a baby, and I can carry him myself, but he’s too bulky and frail. We lost our stretcher a couple days ago, so we lose a lot of time trying to make a new one out of a door, but it’s dry-rotted through, and when we put ‘Pan on it, the old man breaks through and falls three feet to the floor, landing painfully and crying like a toddler in an ancient man’s body. Which, of course, is exactly what he is. There’s nothing left of his mind. I scoop his head and shoulders up in to my arms, and he calms down a bit. I shoot him up with some Feelgood, and he calms down more. His ancient face looks at me, his yellow, cataracted eyes as wide as a baby. He reaches out and touches my face like a newborn, and coos. A streamer of drool comes out of his toothless mouth. It’s sick and wrong. I force myself to smile and look calm. I fight my revulsion, and conjure up images of my own long dead son when he was a baby. “There there,” I say, “Who’s a good baby? You are! You are! Yes you are, yes you are, you’re so good!” I pinch his sagging, leathery cheek and he giggles and crows, and I tell the others to find a better door.
Someone, Ivan I think, complains about this, and says we should just leave him behind. I think about killing him for bringing it up. I’ve been hanging out with the two best fighters in the known history of our species for quite a while now, I’ve picked up a few things. I could easily do it.
Instead, without meeting his eyes, I say, “That’s two strikes, Ivan.” He backs away apologetically, frightened. Deservedly frightened.
After everyone’s finished their pill food rations - swallowed dry, since there’s no water around - I head out in to the lobby , and look around. Convinced it’s safe, I turn around and yell back in to the inner room for everyone to file out, it’s safe. Then I turn around and…
Remember when I was speculating about who the flyer was I saw in the distance? It was Superjunge. Damn, but he’s fast! In the time it took me to turn around and yell two sentences, he flew up silently behind me, and landed. I turn around to find him staring right at me, his face an inch from mine.
The first superheroes were street-level types. The first ones - like Backnight and Deadpan - weren’t technically superheroes at all, more like world-class athletes and prodigies. The later ones - Corporeal Punishment and Captain Canada and Hot Chick and the Six Billion Peso Mexican - were basically modified humans who’d been diddled with by various governments to make super-soldiers. These started showing up just about exactly ten years after I got out of college. Then came ‘genuine’ metahumans, though it’s never entirely sure what ‘genuine’ means. Were they product of a more advanced genetic diddling? Were they a new stage in human evolution? Were they covertly adjusted by forces beyond man’s knowledge? Were they the result of time travelers re-writing our history? Undoubtedly any and all of those were true. But when they started showing up, things changed. No longer did we have simple souped-up humans and cyborgs, now we started having things that used psychic powers, that had different senses, abilities, and things started to change, the rules started to change.
Quantum mechanics suggests that the physical universe is the way it is in large part BECAUSE we perceive it to be. There’s a kind of feedback loop between reality and our perception of it, with our perceptions directly affecting the physical laws by which the universe works. The presence of fundamentally different perspectives can change the rules by which quanta play. It was noticed one day that gravity was no longer a constant. It was NEARLY a constant, but ‘nearly’ isn’t the same thing. Then it was noticed that the speed of light was a bit off. Other things changed too, all caused by new kinds of sentient life on earth who felt sunlight and heard gravity and saw time and tasted magic.
If that sounds like bullcrap, you’re not alone. It makes no sense to me either, but that’s what Maxwell Regent, The World’s Smartest Man said on TV, explaining the phenomenon. He might have been lying. He has an odd sense of humor, but even if that’s not exactly how the two slit paradox meant things worked prior to the advent of superheroics, it is how things work now. Dammit.
The rules changed faster. Bits of history randomly rewrote themselves. Laws of causality changed. There were retcons - the most obvious of which was when Venus went from being a lifeless, hellish planet to being a near twin of our own, ruled by vengeful pagan gods fighting an endless civil war. The Greek god Apollo and Deadpan claimed they were responsible for this, the results of a time traveling adventure, but they were never very clear on the details, and now that the laws of causality are shot, can anyone ever be sure that they’ve actually done the things they’ve done? About half the people I knew couldn’t remember Venus being any other way when it happened, but I was never sure if this was the result of some kind of time traveling futzing with memory, or if people were just kind of stupid and uneducated to begin with. It could go either way. Even before the world started to fall apart, the education system in our country kinda’ sucked.
“You’re too loud to hide,” Superjunge said, staring eye to eye with me. He was beyond handsome. Imagine the best looking male model you ever saw, and then imagine him as being ugly compared to Junge. I’m not gay, not even a little bit, but I was aroused. You can’t help it around the supers. They exude every kind of pheromone, every kind of sexual signal. Animals are even attracted to them. Plants are even attracted to them. I wouldn’t be surprised if inanimate objects were attracted to them.
“If we’re so loud, then you must have heard what happened,” I say, fighting to keep my breathing regular. I’m in full-on flight or fight mode, I’m terrified, and awkwardly turned on by a gender I’m not attracted to. I’m malnourished and sleep deprived and depressed as hell. Frankly, it would only take the tiniest push to send me over the edge in to madness, and though madness sounds pretty good to me right now, I don’t have the luxury. I hold on to sanity with my fingernails, I claw it back in to my head.
His dark face becomes disturbingly beautifully sad. He shows a resigned fear that is pure Wagnerian opera, and in a voice like a prayer, he says, “Is it true?”
I fully expect to die, and the idiot refugees behind me are lined up to watch it, too stupid to run. “Yes,” I admit, waiting for the punch that will go through my body like I’m made of tissue paper. It never comes. I notice absently that my eyes are closed in fear. I open them experimentally, and see the teen is quietly sobbing in front of me. I reach out to touch him, to sooth his tormented brow, to taste his tears, but something stays my hand. I look to see what it is. It’s Ivan. He’s grabbing my arm and pulling it back.
My senses quickly return: One does not touch the tears of a god. If their mere presence provides enough hormonal confusion to turn a solidly heterosexual man like myself in to a horny little teenaged girl watching MTV, then what the hell would bodily fluids do? I make eye contact with Ivan, and without a word passing between us, we both back up a step in unison. Then another.
“You’re back to Strike 1 now,” I said. He smiled toothlessly at me.
“Who did it?” Superjunge asked.
“Vox Inhumana,” I said, “But Blacknight killed him with a Parthian shot. He didn’t survive, though.” Despite the fact that this young alien in front of me has tried to kill us more times than I can count in the last six months, I have to fight the urge to say ‘I’m sorry.’ Blacknight was gay as a three dollar bill, and Superjunge had been his first, and most formidable, sidekick. It was rumored there was more between them as well.
“Clarion’s orders?” the boy from another world asks in a voice that is frankly frightening.
“I don’t know, son, I don’t know. I’m just an insurance adjuster, it’s not like I had any kind of connections here. But it was a music-themed attack, so I assume so.” Junge falls in to a seated slump on the floor. The building shakes a bit as he does. He looks just like us, and his natural gravity-controlling abilities make him seem about as massive as a normal guy, but appearances are deliberately deceiving: he’s heavy. He weighs tons. That’s the central rule of superheroes, and pagan gods: They look like us, but they ain’t us. Don’t be fooled.
“Get your people out of here,” he says, with his head in his hands. The raw emotion boiling off him is too much, it’s overriding my senses. I reach out to touch him, then realize what I’m doing, and back off another footstep. Any moment now, his pheromones will hit the idiot refugees, and they’ll start crowding forward to touch him, and that’ll be the end of everything.
“You’re letting us go?” I ask, wary.
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” he says, “So you’d better get gone while I’m figuring it out.” I start to usher the others out, hugging the wall to stay downwind of his sex appeal.
“There was no way we could bury the body,” I say, “I cleaned him up as best I could, and left him on the couch at a psychiarist’s office on the second floor of an office building over on the other side of…”
He laughed, “Psychiatrist’s office, that’s funny. That’s ironic. He’d have appreciated it.”
“He did. He lasted a little while,” I said, “We talked.”
“Thank you,” Superjunge said, “I’m glad he wasn’t alone when the end came. You need to get out of here. Two of your people made a break for it last night. Xenophilos caught one last night, and it won‘t take the Mentalist long to pry your location from the man‘s memory.”
“How did you find us?” I ask
“I caught the other one, and tortured her until she told me. Then I killed her.”
Superheroes. An impotent rage flies through me, but I really had already known the answer before I asked the question. I grab my bag full of hardback books and as I walk through a shattered floor-length window, I notice it looks like rain, so I pull out my umbrella.
It’s interesting to see how the real-life world of superheroes differed from the comic book version of things from my adolescence. There’s a number of interesting differences that tend to underscore the similarities to what people imagined.
Superheroes are gay, of course. Specifically, they’re both kinds of gay. They’re the stupid kind of gay, the sort you get when someone tells you their theory of how Antarctica is actually Atlantis, and you say “That’s the gayest thing I’ve ever heard!” And then there’s the actual sexually deviant kind of gay. Superheroes have both of that, in spades. Technically, I guess, they’re omnisexual, they’ll nail anyone and any thing, attractiveness is a survival trait - the prettier you are, the more likely you are to breed and continue your genetic line - so it follows that superhuman would be supernaturally attractive to both genders, and they’ve got a super-amped-up sex drive that makes them able to take advantage of it. Men, women, they don’t discriminate. Vervectikleib had a thing for cattle, actually.
It’s funny to me - I’d half forgotten it, until I found the old comic books in the fridge - but all those old comics assumed Superheroes would be clustered around major cities. Marvel had a burr up their ass about New York City, and DC invented hokey fake cities like “Gotham” and “Metropolis” which were also obviously New York, or occasionally, Chicago. In fact, in the real world, New York and LA barely get a mention. The hot, burning center of the Superhero universe is, was, and will always be Atlanta, Georgia. I don’t know why that is, it just is. Trust me, when I used to live here, all that superheroic crap used to annoy the hell out of me. I left early on.
They didn’t really bother with secret identities in reality. It wasn’t practical: They were too pretty, too perfect, broadcasting sex on too many channels simultaneously. There was no way to be hid. You could be an amazingly sexy crime fighter, but you couldn’t exactly hide it by putting on glasses and a conservative suit. You were still gonna’ be amazingly sexy, and someone would figure it out sooner or later. In the end, secret identities were simply more trouble than they were worth. And in the end, Superheroes are about the simplest solution to the most complex problems, usually the WWF smack down solution. Despite all their high-minded ideals, it always comes down to a Wallace Beery film in the end.
They also didn’t really date. Fictional Superman may have had Fictional Lois Lane, but the real life supers might occasionally use someone for a moment’s guilty pleasure, but they didn’t really have relations with people. For one thing, they were too strong, they had to hold back too much. I’ll leave you to read “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex” by Larry Niven to figure out what I mean by that, but the bottom line is that they kept to their own kind. The only long term relationship I ever heard of between a human and a super was the one between Superjunge and Blacknight, and that was just a rumor, one staunchly denied by both communities. Supers don’t really have relationships with humans for the same reason humans don’t marry gorillas.
Another substantial difference between reality and the comics was that in the comics the superheroes mostly respected the civil authorities. Superman fought for truth, justice, and the American Way. More liberal fictional heroes like Oliver Queen frequently opposed the government’s policies, but they overwhelmingly supported the government itself, at least in theory, supporting what it stood for if not what it actually did. In actual practice…not so much.
In retrospect, it was hopelessly naïve to expect aliens like Superjunge and The Venusian Vigilante and Sky-Fi and Ikonoklast to have any particular loyalty to any particular country. They weren’t from here, they didn’t exactly come here willingly. Ikonoklast - who was black - had been forced in to slavery in the decade leading up to the civil war. There were some anger issues there, and I’m not saying they aren’t justified.
It was even sillier to assume that supernatural superheroes like My Beautiful Assistant, or Doctor Destiny or The Njorn would have any particular loyalty to a country. I mean, the Njorn was a supernatural being for Pete’s sake, she was older than the earth itself. And The Blue Djin, they say, used to be on Satan’s payroll before he joined the nominally-good guys. Once they’ve rebelled against God Himself, how can Uncle Sam hope to keep him on the straight-and-narrow?
We did get the superhero teams, of course, modern day pantheons of modern day gods, lording it over mortals from the modern day Olympus that was the Peachtree Hotel. But it’s amazing how fast things fell apart. Endlessly beautiful people with a penchant for order, and an endless sexual appetite are clearly going to have little in common with your average overweight schlub with zits and ulcerative colitis. Eventually, they’re invariably going to lock up all the super villains, and tire of using their powers to nab purse snatchers and people who don’t bring back library books on time. Eventually they’re going to turn to The Big Issues, eventually they’re going to tire of a government that isn’t doing enough to fix The Big Issues, eventually they’re going to simply fly to Africa with endless amounts of grain taken by force from the US, and of course everyone is going to praise them for it. I mean, hell, I cried when Uberlord fed those starving Somali kids, I’ll admit it. But there wasn’t a government on earth that could stand in their way, and governments that can’t enforce their own rules cease to be governments at all.
But the biggest difference - and the one that’s completely missing from the old comics - is that democracy is no longer democratic. In a human world, we’re all born, we live, and we die, and we’re all roughly equal. In a superhero world, we’re all born, but some of us will not die, and what could be more inequitable than that? It didn’t take long for that to set in with our thinking, and from then on there was the uncomfortable feeling of time passing you by, of being on the loosing end of evolution, of being replaced.
Eventually, the Superheroes just divied the world up in to their own personal fiefdoms, and suddenly none of us were Americans or Russians or Europeans anymore, we were Ferral Laddians, or Bloodwoodians, or Ragin’ Cajuns or Purple Hearts. Most people seemed to think this was a good thing at the time. The early 21st century had more-or-less sucked, after all, and a lot of us welcomed the change, though of course that didn’t last long. After all, in a world with little people who didn’t matter, and hopelessly attractive, sexually voracious gods, it’s not like even love can survive, so what chance did humanity have?
Total time from when Blacknight hit the streets to the time when the superheroes simply assumed command of the world? Just six years.
We’re near the end of our journey, one way or another. Win or loose, it ends very soon, maybe today, maybe tomorrow. I think it through: Basically, if we’re going to win - and ‘win’ is a very relative term for what we’re attempting here - then we’ll have to do it very soon. If we’re going to loose, then any longer period of time will do.
But we’re near our destination, and the things Vox Inhumana said last night make it clear that the Superheroes still haven’t figured out what Deadpan’s plan for us was. So we’ve still got that going for us. The “Good Guys” seem to think we’re running at random, but we’re not.
I hoped and prayed that we’d be able to make it downtown before anyone noticed us, but we didn’t even make it out of Buckhead.
The music stopped, and Clarion was there, hovering in front of me. A lifetime of heterosexual reflexes were barely enough to keep me from throwing myself at Superjunge, now that same lifetime of reflexes were drawing me to her. She was hopelessly beautiful. No, beautiful is too perfunctory a word: she was gloriously, preternaturally lovely beyond belief. She had those yummy long legs, that ass that really did make grown men cry, the firm, pouting bosom, long, swan-like neck, olive skin, piercing green eyes, and the kind of long, flowing jet-black hair that you dream about wrapping yourself in. Her costume was quite flattering, and really more revealing than any simple nakedness could ever be. I tried not to look at the siren, tried not to meet her eyes, but it wasn’t working. I could smell her, feel her fatal loveliness casually wafting through my brain. I heard a chorus of low moans from among the refugees, which I recognized was them spontaneously climaxing - men and women both - simply from the sight of her. I realized belatedly that I had, too.
The funny thing is that while everyone has seen here, in pictures, in movies, in real life, hundreds of times, no one can ever seem to really remember what her face looks like.
My head is muddy with hormones released by my unexpected orgasm. I have trouble thinking. I tighten my grip on my umbrella, and my other hand goes to Blacknight’s utility belt, which I took off him when he died, and which I’ve been wearing since we left the comic book shop. This is going to end badly. The refugees are moving towards her, excepting Homer who’s babbling about not understanding what’s going on. I have some brilliant kill-o-zap weapon in my hand, freshly taken from the belt, but I can’t think of what to do with it.
“You’ve led us on a merry chase,” she says in a mellifluously silky voice that defies description, “And now your reward: A goodbye kiss.”
A kiss? That sounds good, I’d gladly sell my life for the touch of her lips. I move in closer, closer. I know she’s strong enough to topple a building, to a lift an ocean liner, but I don’t care. I know she’ll snap my neck with just the slightest of finger twitches from her tapered hands, but I don’t care. She is my whole world at this moment, and all that matters is the feel of her hot breath on my neck. It is worth it. It is a good death, a fine way to go, in service of my divine mistress. I go closer, closer, and I become distantly aware of something, a noise far off that I notice only because it isn’t her, only because it clashes with the sheets of sex appeal pouring off of her in all directions.
It bothers me, and I focus on it, trying to define it so as to better tune it out, but of course that just makes it worse. It’s a human voice, coming from a long way off, getting louder, moving fast. What the…”
“Yoooooooooooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuu Bitch!” Superjunge screams as he flies in to her, slamming her body at barely-subsonic speed. I wasn’t touching her, but I was close, very close, and the force of the impact knocks me ass-over-teakettle. The refugees freak out and scatter, and several of them actually were touching her when the alien boy struck. Two of them were killed outright, another lost both arms, and bled to death before we could do anything about it. I screamed at them to run, and we scrambled off in to an old, half-collapsed apartment complex on the intersection of Peachtree and Peachtree.
Inside, we heard the battle raging. Their fists made noises like thunder when they struck, our hovel shuddered several times from the force of the nearby blows. The ground shook when one or another of them piled in to the pavement. The windows shattered. There were screams and curses and sobs from both sides of their battle, and we huddled together and prayed for deliverance to any real, non-profane God who might be out there, and we quaked with fear, and one of the refugees freaked out and ran off, and we never saw him again. Gradually, though the grunts from the warring gods became progressively higher pitched, and the sobs became more constant, then becoming a wracking cry which was more horrible than even the sounds of the battle itself had been. A woman’s terrified wail, a teenaged boy screaming profanity and punctuating it with body blows and cuts, and finally Clarion screaming over and over again “Just end it, just end it, I beg you please just kill me,” in an unhinged, gurgling fashion, and eventually, after a long time, Superjunge did. Then the wracking cry returned, but it was him this time, not the woman he’d killed, and somehow that was even worse. This went on for a long time in the distance, until finally we heard the sonic boom of him flying away.
We quickly left the apartment complex, and stumbled across her body. She wasn’t lovely no more.
I left Atlanta before the Supeheroes took over the world. First I moved the greater New York City area, which, after the takeover became Fille de Pouvoir Land, a vassal state consisting of Newark, Manhattan, and Connecticut, shepherded by a smokin’ hot chesty blonde in a low-cut white leotard with a thonged butt and no shoes at all. I don’t know why, but the barefoot thing was quite the turn on. Supervillain activity grew worse, so I left for Dahlonega, since I had family there, and not a moment too soon: the Punster blew up the city. Fille de Pouvoir herself survived, of course, with a kicky new ‘do to indicate her mourning for the lives lost.
Eventually, the super villainy thing got so bad in Atlanta that they moved all the ‘civilans’ (Read: Mortals) out of the city. Atlanta remained common territory, a meeting grounds for all the supers. After a big protest and some resistance to the forced relocation, they just decided to move us all of us Georgians to the planet Venus. Fortunately, Venus had been retconned by this point.
I got a temp job working at a Venusian gas station on the outskirts of Nyarlethholethboleth Shibop, a thriving metropolis of five million Venusians. Venusians look pretty much like Gumby from the old Art Clokey shorts, only people-sized. And they’re shape shifters, too. Ever wonder what the Venusan Vigilante looks like when he’s not in human form? He looks a lot like Eddie Murphy pretending to be Gumby on Saturday Night Live.
It was a terrible job, and Venus was a terrible place, but I learned some interesting stuff there. I learned that the whole ‘superhero’ thing wasn’t new, for instance.
Once upon a time, humanity had been a hermaphroditic quadruped species, and fairly advanced. Advanced enough to start monkeying around with technology and genetics, and producing superheroes. They called these “Zeus” and “Hera” and “Helios” and so forth. We know them as the pagan gods, but in fact they were just an earlier cycle of supers, dammit. Doctor Ducaleon re-engineered the gods to have gender and only two legs, which was considered basically a matter of fashion at the time, and they assumed command of the world. The world resisted, so the superhero gods wiped them out, and then Doctor Ducaleon created *our* species from scratch and populated the world with us. The four-legged hermaphrodites were the ones that got wiped out of course, when Duclaeon started his own species, he decided to make them look like the gods. This was around the same time that Diana went from being a super villainess to being a good guy, and put the moon in orbit.
The history is all a bit fuzzy, but either some of the gods themselves rebelled, or else some of the new humans - our own species - turned to lives of super villainy and were successful, but either way the ultimate result was that the Norse gods managed to gain ascendancy over the Greek ones, and evidently the Greek gods are the same as the Vannir in Norse mythology. Eventually they all moved to Venus in an attempt to avoid Ragnarok, but I’m fuzzy on the details, and I’m even fuzzier on whether or not any of this actually happened prior to the retconning.
Venus was pretty as a daydream, but a horrible place to live, owing to the endless warfare between the Norse pantheon and the Greek one. Ultimately, one side or another got pissed off at a lack of enthusiasm from their worshipers, and they jointly decided to simply wipe out the whole species and start over again. Fortunately, someone thought to complain to the earth embassy in Byarlthorn Njebek City, and a few heroes were sent to escort us home before the genocide started. I presume the Gumby aliens are dead now.
It was then I met Blacknight, he was one of the people sent to rescue us, and one of only two heroes I ever met who was ever even remotely heroic. Of course he and Deadpan were entirely human, so perhaps that shouldn’t be too surprising.
Someone named Beauford and I have an argument about weather or not we’re leaving Deadpan behind. I say we’re not, and the guy cold-cocks me with a lucky punch. I go down hard, and by the time I get back up, he’s broken the old man’s neck. It fixes. Beauford breaks it again, and again, and again, and again, but it won’t stay broken. All he’s doing is torturing the old man, who screams like the baby he is, and Beauford gets so freaked out by this that he just starts crying and punching the ground.
We don’t have time for this. I toy with the idea of killing Beauford, but he’s beyond horrified, and I think he’s learned his lesson. Part of it, anyway. The trick is that Deadpan has gone past his maximum age of a hundred or so, an is now aging down again to his newborn state. Since he’s getting younger, any damage he takes just instantly heals. I sighm head over, and coochie-choochie-coo the former swordmaster until he calms down, and starts giggling, and then I carefully pick up Beauford, who fully expects me to kill him. And maybe I do too.
But I don’t. I look him in the eye, and I say “We are human beings. That used to count for something. We can’t kill Deadpan, I don’t think it’s possible for him to die anymore, and we will not leave him alone, lost, confused, frightened, all by himself, ok? You don’t just abandon a baby, no matter the cost. We will not do it. We paid too much in blood to get him back, and it would cost even more to leave him behind. We still have our humanity, that’s all we have left, and if taking care of that thing that Deadpan’s become is the price of maintaining it, we’ll do it, ok? And if we die because of it, we die as men and women, not as savages. Do you understand me?”
He nods, and wipes at his bleary eyes, says he understands, but I know he doesn’t. Hell, he probably didn’t know half the words I used just then. But whatever, crisis averted.
I go back to tearing a few pages out of some of the books I took from the comic shop, and scribbling a few things down. When I’ve got what I need, I carefully burn the books and chuck ‘em down the storm drain. I explain my plan to Ivan and Homer, relying on Homer to remember it and explain it to Ivan as the need arises, and then I give them most of the items out of Blacknight’s utility belt. I keep the belt for myself, though, and one or two other things. I tell them to go on and do it, and they hesitate, then, awkwardly the two of them hug me, and suddenly I’m blubbering. I go over to Deadpan, who’s about sixtyish now, and smelling terrible, and I coochie-coochie-coo him one last time. “Daddy loves his baby,“ I say, “Who’s good baby are you? Are you mine? You’re mine, aren’t you?“ His eyes focus and clear, and just for an instant there’s something in them - recognition? - then it’s gone, and he’s a blubbering geriatric infant again. Did he know me, just for a bit there? Is there still a glimmer of him inside that weird body? Is there hope for him? For us? Probably not. Probably not. Emotions are ragged on this end of history. I’m just imagining it.
I give him a kiss on the forehead, and the others carry him away. In the end, Ivan and Homer and the rest do what they’re told. They go in to the MARTA terminal, and disappear into the tunnels.
I hold on to a couple of the torn pages, and think really hard, really really hard.
*** (This is as far as I got posting last year)
We didn’t get back to earth right away. We were hijacked to some dumbass planet called “New Origin,” which was involved in some kind of witchwar with another planet called “Eschatelon.” Evidently, Mister Bryghtsyde and the New Orignals were gods who’d left earth in some even more ancient superhero cycle that the Olympians and the Norse were too young to remember. They were old, millions of years old. Old enough that natural selection of a sort had affected both sides of the eternal conflict, with the New Originals recognizing the need for a degree of self determination for created beings. Their concept was a bit more like “Nature preserve” or “Zoo” than “Up With People,” but dammit, it’s a rough universe out there. You take whatever tiny little glimmerings of good you can find, and you don’t piss and moan about it.
That’s when I met Deadpan. The three of us, and a slew of other refugees from Venus, ended up fighting in their war for two years, mostly on the side of the New Originals, but not always. I’m a former insurance guy, and you can’t imagine how highly my skills with mortuary rate tables were valued by a god of death like Mister Bryghtsyde. After that, we were let go. Only the three of us had survived.
I waited by Clarion’s body, amidst acres of destruction, and I scribbled notes and then burned half the pages, or smudged them to make them semi-unreadable. Others I simply held and thought really hard at. I was bored and hungry, but I fought the urge to eat another of Retroactive’s food pills. I only had a half dozen, I’d given the rest to Homer to keep when they’d left. The problem with the things is that while they give you a fill day’s worth of energy and nutrients, they don’t fill you up or satisfy any of your cravings. I’m as well nourished as I can be, but I’m skin and bones for lack of bulk. It’s an unsettling experience, but I couldn’t just go eating up the rest of my supplies because I was bored. It wouldn’t fill me up any more, and I’d pay for it down the road. Not that there was too terribly much “Down the road” left at this point.
After a few hours, Multiplantagenet showed up, yammering in that English accent of his. Is there still an England? I’m not sure. The geography of the world has changed quite a bit since Professor Mortality moved Antarctica up in to the south pacific. Then some of the mystical heroes created “Islandia” off the Atlantic coast of Africa, and of course ocean levels raised copiously because of it. Florida is under water, as are most of the gulf states. It’s salt water all the way up to Nashville, which is now a coastal city on the huge new somewhat oxymoronically named “Dixieland Sea.” Georgia is relatively high and dry, however, a peninsula jutting out over a drowned land.
Multiplantagenet is one of those guys who can make energy-based clones of himself. It’s some kind of hyperdimetional doubletalk. He starts talking theatrically about how he’s captured me, how Brain Trust will pry my secrets from my mind, how we’re doomed, how he’s gonna’ get himself some lovin’ from Clarion for his role in all this. Then, of course, he sees Clarion’s grotesquely broken form, and he goes livid with rage. He starts making copies of himself, two, four, eight, sixteen, and on it goes. I don’t run. I don’t even think he knows how many copies he’s capable of making, and I’m not in a mood to figure it out. I’m completely surrounded by thirty or so copies of himself, all furious. I tighten my grip on my umbrella. Several of him charge me all at once, and I just stab the umbrella tip in to the one nearest to me. He’s so angry, so hepped up on adrenalin or the hyperdimentional equivalent thereof that he barely notices, even though it’s a deep wound. Another of him tackles me, knocking the umbrella from my hand. None of them seem to notice the low buzzing noise, or the saint Elmo’s fire surrounding the copy I stabbed. Two others knock me down and start wailing on me. The other copies of him move in closer, and I’m just about to get beaten to death when one of him says, “I don’t feel so good,” and falls over, dead.
All the surviving copies of him stop, and look at the one of them who’s laying on the floor. Two others are showing the Saint Elmo’s Fire, and starting to swoon. The others drag me up off the ground by my shirt. One of him gets in my face and screams “What did you do to us?” The two swooning ones fall down dead. Four others develop the Saint Elmo’s fire.
“My umbrella was a present from The Haberdasher,” I say calmly as four of ,Multiplantagenet drop dead, and eight others start to glow. He/they panic, and try to run away. Some of him try to re-combine in to one being, but they die instantly, others try frantically to keep dividing in to more and more clones, but they can’t divide fast enough to outrun the effects of the umbrella virus, or whatever the hell it was. Some of them, horrified that they’ve been brought in to the world only to die in seconds, freak out and in the end there’s dozens of Multiplantagenets, all attacking each other.
I dust myself off, and note that I’m missing a few more teeth as a result of the scuffle. I ache everywhere. I’m an old man. I’m fifty one, entirely too decrepit for this kind of thing. Moving slowly, I plant my papers on the bodies, and discard the umbrella. It’s a one-shot weapon, no use to me now. I count the bodies out of literally-morbid curiosity: I’d managed to kill thirty eight copies of the same guy with a one-shot weapon. I got lucky.
As I start to walk downtown, I’m glad I counted the bodies. I’ve got a touch of OCD, and it’s not that I expect to live all that much longer, but it’s the kind of thing that would have nagged me to my dying day. By the time I’m a mile away from the bodies, it starts to rain. Dammit, I should have kept the umbrella, but it’s too late to go back now.
We got back to earth via Mars, which had a small group of scientists and things on it. Mars was still pretty much what Mars had always been thought to be: a sterile, lifeless desert planet with a half-dozen domed towns from a half-dozen nations on earth. Some of these were studying the Bradburyesque remains of Martian ruins, but it’s unclear if these had always been there, or if they’d been placed there by some retcon or another. Space ships were old hat, of course, slow, expensive, and dangerous. Instead, people came to and from the red planet by a hyperspace bridge, maintained by the International Space Agency.
We hopped the bridge back to earth from Mars.
The planet was all but unrecognizable. Continents had been moved, created, destroyed, sea levels were different. The superheroes had divided in to roughly political camps, with the more reactionary ones fighting the more proactively liberal ones, and the super villains fighting both sides. Societies had fallen apart, infrastructure was gone. I think of that dull, hopeless look I used to see on the evening news when I was a kid, when people were being evacuated from some disaster or war in East Bankruptistan or some ragass bananna republic, the look of people who’ve lost everything, even hope, the look of people who are dead, but haven’t quite realized it yet. I know intellectually that there was a time when you never saw that look on the faces of Americans, but I’ve seen so much of it since I got back that, try as I might, I can’t remember it clearly. I think of my mom, of my wife, of my son, of my sainted, long dead father who passed when I was a boy, and my present experiences have filtered back to corrupt my memories. All of my beloveds have that same dead eyed, hopeless expression in my memories, even ones who logically couldn’t have looked like that. Their faces - even in happy memories of birthdays and weddings - stare at me like mourners at a funeral. I don’t spend much time remembering anymore, as a result. Probably for the best.
And of course education was gone. Why should the gods waste time teaching gorillas like us to do tricks, after all? Waste of resources. Illiteracy was at like fifty percent when we got back, but among the younger generation, it was more like ninety percent. And more esoteric knowledge like history or how a Wankle Rotary Engine works? Forget about it, it’s just gone.
After some initial consternation, Blacknight, Deadpan and myself signed up with the super villains. Haberdasher put us on his private army. He was a men’s finery-themed super villain from back in the day, a screaming fop, but he had such neat toys. He claimed he had an umbrella for every occasion, and a hat for every crime. I never understood what that meant, but we were loyal subjects of Haberdasherystan, a small super villain kingdom consisting of most of what had been the state of Wyoming back in better times. By the time he was killed, and his kingdom fell - victim of an evil betrayal by The Abortionist, his girlfriend, or more likely his beard (I was never quite sure) - the conflict had evolved in to a humans-versus-post humans struggle.
The Humans lost, of course. Not all at once, and not overnight, but no denying the outcome. Deadpan had brokered some kind of deal with the New Originals, and Mars disappeared from the night sky, with the scientists and their families on it. To this day, we don’t know where it went. Deadpan wouldn’t tell me, and in the end he clearly doesn’t remember anymore, but it is evidently a protected planet now, one of the New Original’s ‘nature preserves’ for the minor races.
Which isn’t as ideal as it sounds. One thing our scientists on the red planet had quickly discovered was that humans can’t breed in low gravity. Fetuses spontaneously abort there, they won‘t go full term. It’s not a solution to the problem of continuing the human race, but at least it’s a safe place to sit for a while and figure out our next step. It’s a crappy old universe, as I said, but it’s better than nothing.
Meanwhile, your Doctor Baroques and Psychic Surgeons and Man a’la Medicals and others all tried to fix humans, make us good, make us behave, make us nice little thralls of the superhero gods. It never worked, and eventually, to no one’s real surprise, they decided to simply wipe us out like the Olympians had done millennia before, and start over from scratch.
The central irony of all this is that super villains, by their very nature, were the only thing standing between the human race and extinction.
But they were never really very good at their job, were they? I mean, the villains always loose in the end, right?
It took me two days to make it to the burned out ruins of Pill Hill. Atlanta was finally destroyed a couple years ago in the final dance of death between the Evil League and World Hero Federation. The battle royale had lasted a month, and more than a hundred heroes fell in the carnage, and all the major villains died. Ultimately, it was the Tet Offensive of the superhero wars: It was big, impressive, and destructive, but it didn’t really accomplish any of its objectives. Quite the opposite, it steeled the determination of the heroes to off us mere mortals, and of course the villains had left their home territories undefended, so the last billion of so of humanity had expired quickly after that.
Our little band had managed to hold up in an old air force base underground for most of the carnage, but with supplies running out, we started our zig-zag perambulation across the continent, seemingly at random, but in fact, we were always coming to Atlanta, because there was something here that could help.
Parts of the city are still burning with eerie green eldritch flames that water can not put out. They’ll burn until all the mana in the area is exhausted, I guess. I have to climb in to the old Center for Disease Control building through a broken second floor window. It’s a nice day, sunny, no clouds, a slight chill in the air. In the distance, I can see the remains of the Peachtree tower stabbing up in to the sky like a broken finger. They’ll find me soon. I don’t mind. I have many happy memories of the CDC, and despite the dust and the raccoons scampering around inside the building, it doesn’t look all that different. I’m happy to be here. It feels like home, after a fashion.
I’ve been dropping false clues for a couple days - attaching psychic transmitters to rats and things I’ve captured, then sending them scampering away, setting off remote controlled holographic projectors, that kind of thing. All crap I swiped from Blacknight’s utility belt. The rest, the more useful stuff, I gave to Homer and Ivan. If they’re going to make it, they should make it soon.
No point taking chances, though. I reach in to my bag and find Nick O’Teen’s Magical Murder Helmet. It’s psychic-proof, and can’t be removed by force, since it’s magical. I put it on, they can’t read my mind, and they can’t take it off. Nick was a crazy evil bastard fond of killing sprees. He used to run the good guys ragged with this thing back when the good guys were still theoretically good, and the super villains were unquestionably bad. It’s close and tight, and smells of stale blood, it makes me feel hemmed in. I hate the thought of what he did while wearing this thing, and I start to have a panic attack. I run around frantically, and nearly black out, when I suddenly realize that I’m in the second floor cafeteria, and I calm down. I think, rationally, that it will give me some pleasure to use this helmet to save lives, not take them.
The security in the CDC was never what you’d call good. It operated on the theory that since the place was full of nasty bugs, no one would want to break in. The Terrorist Wars of the early 21st century proved that wrong, but for some reason, security never improved. I worked at an insurance office just inside the overpass exit, and when I discovered the CDC had a better cafeteria than any of the restaurants around, I repeatedly snuck in with a clever disguise consisting of (A) sunglasses, (B) a clipboard, (C ) a tie, and (D) a scowl: the unquestioned symbols of authority in pre-metahuman America. No one ever questioned me. Thirty years later, I find some stale coke in glass bottles behind the cash register. I guzzle it down, the first thing I’ve had to drink in two or three days.
But of course they’re waiting for me. They file in, while I’m there. I don’t even try to escape.
The semi-blasphemously named Demiurge himself actually comes in. “Hi, John,” I say to him. He hates it when you call him by his real name.
“So, wait, let me see if I’ve got this straight,” I said to Blacknight, “The plan is to get something from the CDC that can shut down the metagene and take away their powers?”
“No,” he said, “The real plan is…” He was dead twenty four hours later.
They had me up on the roof. They’d not gotten around to beating me up yet. Mostly, they were showboating. They’re gods without worshipers, after all, and I might be their last chance to impress upon someone how much better than me they are.
“We know all about your little scheme,” Hivemind says in his German accent. Is there still a Germany, I wonder? Is there still even an Europe? No matter. He holds up a diagram I’d torn out of a book, and one of my semi-legible semi-burned handwritten notes. “I can read your thoughts in this. I have read your thoughts in this” and he indicates the paper that I’d so painstakingly thought heavily at a couple days ago.
It’s possible to record thought waves in organic matter, but the quality of the recording is crappy, and hard to reassemble.
“Never seen it before,” I lie.
“You lie!” he snaps, “Your thoughts are all over this diagram.” I smile - I actually peel back my cheeks and smile for the first time in who knows how long - because he knows I’m lying, but he doesn’t know the nature of my lie, the purpose behind it. That looks good for me. Well, bad for me personally, but good for my overall scheme, anyway.
“I will kill you for what you did to Clarion,” Demiurge says. I steel a quick look at Superjunge, who’s wearing sunglasses and avoiding my gaze. Clearly the truth isn’t out, and I can’t expect any further aid from that quarter.
“Probably,” I say, “But it’ll nag you forever that you’ll never know how I did it.” I’m just stalling for time now, keeping them distracted enough by their hatred of me that they won’t notice fifty or sixty refugees aren’t anywhere to be seen. I look at Superjunge, “She died horribly, and it took a long time,” I say. He looks away.
“Your plan was to find the metagene blocker, which would take our powers away, and render us mortal. You hoped to find it in the vault here at the CDC,” Hivemind says, “It is a puny plan.”
“It is a puny plan,” I say, honestly agreeing with him.
“You will explain this diagram to us,” he says, “and how you came to possess such information.”
“Ok, sure. Well, firstly, that diagram is a page I tore out of the Starfleet Technical Manual, published in 1975. I got it in a comic book store in Buckhead. I think it’s a first edition, not that it matters now.” I’m honestly telling the truth here, but they don’t realize it. Hivemind looks at me in annoyance.
“Get that helmet off him,” he says. It won’t come off, though they try of course. Presently Demiurge hits on the idea of having the others torture me until I take it off. They break my hands, a finger at a time, poke holes in me with their own steel-like fingers. I hold out as long as I can, but of course I give in. Probably I only lasted for a few minutes, but it felt like it went on forever. Hivemind squints at me as he reads my mind.
“Mars is still attached to Earth?” He says, incredulously
“Mars is still attached to Earth?” I say, incredulously.
“Yeah. Wherever they put it, there’s still a physical connection via the hyperspace bridge. One end of it is on Marsdome One, the other end is at the NASA center in Atlanta,” Blacknight explains.
“But the city’s destroyed, there’s no power,” I say.
“The bridge facility was underground and blast proof, the power comes from the Martian end. Oh, God, I hurt,” he says. He’s dying.
“So it should still be working?” I ask.
“I haven’t got much time left here,” he says, “Please try to be a little smarter. Your purpose…”
“…Is to distract them in to thinking I’m going to the CDC while the refugees make it through the MARTA tunnels to the old NASA facility.”
“Yes,” he whispers, then looks around himself, “Is this a psychiatrists office?”
“Yeah,” I say. He laughs.
“Oh, God, that’s funny.” He winces, his eyes are cloudy.
“I’m scared all the time,” he says.
“I’m here,” I say, and take his shattered hand in mine gently.
“I’m scared all the time, but this is much worse,” he says.
“I’m here, I’m not leaving,” I say.
“I wasn’t going to go to Mars with you,” he says, wheezing.
“I know,” I lie. It’s news to me.
“No room for heroes in the new world, just plain folk.”
“For the best, I agree, but David,” I say, “You’re plain folk,” I say, “You’re not like them.”
He smiles at this. He tries to say something, but I can’t make it out. I put my ear right up against his lips, and even then it’s like he’s whispering in another room.
“Thanks. You’re. Not. So. Bad. Yourself. For. A. Breeder.”
He kisses me gently on the earlobe, and then he’s gone.
I clean up the body as best I can, and leave.
“Mars is still attached to Earth?” Hivemind says again, less incredulously, and more angrily. I’m too weak and beaten up to move. As if on cue there’s an explosion in the distance, and a building down town starts belching smoke and flame. Real flame, not that sickly eldritch crap. I quickly feel him walking through my memories. I notice, awkwardly, that I’ve got a raging erection, no doubt from the overabundance of pheromones wafting around in the present of ten or twenty superheroes around me.
“He gave them explosives, and told them how to set them to go off after the Bridge had sent them to Mars. These will have destroyed our end of the bridge. The planet is now completely cut off to us. We can not get there, and the explosions mean they must have gotten away.”
“You lose,” I say. They’re furious, they’re stomping around, the ones with laser vision are blasting things on the horizon, the fire ones are bursting in to and out of flame. Hot Chick - now looking a bit saggy and old, truth be told - screams and flies like a comet in to the next building, knocking it down.
“It is of no matter,” Superjunge says, “The can survive there, but they can’t breed. They’re still doomed.”
“Not my problem,” I say, “My people, and any surviving scientists still on Mars, might be able to work around that. Maybe they’ll figure a solution, maybe they’ll invent artificial gravity, maybe they’ll find another place to live, or maybe they’ll invent some crazy Flash Gordon technology and come back here and kill all your asses but good. I don’t give a damn.” My voice is slurred, they pulled out my teeth during the torture, “The point is that they’re free, they’ll survive for a little while longer in peace, and maybe they’ll last beyond that, maybe they won’t. You don’t know.”
“We will kill you for this,” Demiurge says.
“Duh,” I say, hazy from the pain of the beating they already gave me, “But it doesn’t matter. I won. I beat you. I led the last remnant of humanity on earth out of your grasp. You sons of Olympus done in by an out-of-work insurance adjuster from Dahlonega. I’m the new Moses,” I say, then pause with a realization that none of those idiots I saved will remember my name. I never told it to them.
This is too much for Demiurge. He snatches me up by my throat, and holds me over the edge of the building. I’m surprisingly calm. I’ve known the end is coming for a long time, and now that it’s here, I’m ready for it.
“you got any last words, new Moses?” he screams at me.
“Yes!” I scream back at him with every last ounce of defiance and venom in me, not sure where the strength is coming from, but hiding my fear under a veneer of derision. I give them my last word on the subject. Conscious that I’m about to say man’s final words on planet earth, I holler, “SUPER HEROES ARE GAY!”
He squeezes his hand effortlessly, and all goes black…
Copyright, 2010, 2011, Republibot 3.0
Hi, Republibot 3.0 here, also known as "Kevin Long." I'm basically a starving author. If you liked this story, then you'll probably like my other stories as well. This one is in my first anthology here:
And my second anthology - which Larry Niven called "Highly Entertaining" - is available here
Both cost less than three bucks on Kindle. Come on, buy one, support starving artists, and in the process ensure the production of more stories like this one!